I got a Facebook message today letting me know the husband of my first speech coach is seeking stories to tell at her funeral. I am so grateful I was a part of this woman’s team. There is so much more that could be said about what she did for me. I hope that I can have half the impact she did as a teacher.
I got a B in Mrs. Brenizer’s freshman English class. While I had always been an A/B student, English was not where I got my B’s. Especially from my speech coach. Wasn’t she supposed to give me the benefit of the doubt? But Mrs. B didn’t give the benefit of the doubt, her legacy in my life as a teacher and a speech coach were her high expectations. Mrs. Brenizer expected that you do your best, always. She had an incredible ability to know exactly when a student was giving her their all, and when a student was giving her what it took to get by. She knew I could write better, and was the first teacher to call me on it.
As my speech coach, she was the most intimidating figure to perform in front of. I know I am not the only one who thought that. We used to talk about it, the four girls who would be her last team, in the hotel room late at night. (We were securely in our room late at night because we didn’t want to know what would happen to us if we broke curfew.) You would walk into her room; she would be behind her desk. You would perform. If you did really well there would be a head nod and a small smile. That was it. I worked hard for those head nods, those smiles. I knew she meant them. If you got a “good job” or “nicely done” at the end you had really nailed it.Those weren’t given out lightly and I still remember the ones I got. I worked hard for Mrs. B, because she expected me to.
My junior year was the last year Mrs. Brenizer would teach. It was a dark time in my life as well. I had an unexplained illness and dropped all my classes but one. I remember my parents asking if I wanted to drop out. The only reason Ididn’t: I still wanted to compete. I know there are a lot of coaches out there who would not have had time for me. I came to school sporadically, I sometimes missed practice, I had to call out sick the second day of a two day tournament. Mrs. B recognized that I needed the team. She also recognized that even though it wasn’t very good, I was doing the best I could. And she always accepted your best.
I owe a lot to Mrs. B. I continued competing in college. I met my husband on the Ball State speech team. (We were duo partners.) I have a baby girl and teach English in inner-city Atlanta. Three years ago the administration of the school I teach at found out about my background and asked me to start a team.
I thought of Mrs. B a lot the two years I coached. When my kids were knuckle heads, when judges wrote rude things on the ballot, when my kids were giving me less than their very best. I couldn’t help but wonder what she would have done. It was also the first time I truly appreciated how much work she had done for us. Last year my students admitted to me that while they had no problem performing in rounds, they were intimidated by practicing for me. When I asked why, one of them explained, “Well, everyone else is just like that was pretty good. But you always expect more from us, you don’t think it is good until it is like…. the best we could do.” In that moment, I knew I was doing right by my kids. I still hope Mrs. B would be proud of me, smile, nod her head, and maybe even give me a rare “nicely done.”